Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Kony2012: A Call to Compassion

By Michael J. Gerson


March 16, 2012

By Michael J. Gerson

The Internet success of the Kony2012 video, produced by Invisible Children, has drawn both attention and scrutiny. 

Those not familiar with Joseph Kony should learn his name and story.  He is the brutal leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which is part militia and part cult.  Kony cultivates the idea that he is a supernatural being.  His followers obey and fear him. And Kony has made a career of causing fear.

As a rebel leader in northern Uganda, Kony committed atrocities, captured tens of thousands of children for use as soldiers and sex slaves and displaced more than a million people into camps.  He has now been chased into the vast, ungoverned border region between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.   

When I recently visited eastern Congo, I met some of Kony’s victims—two young girls who had been kidnapped by the LRA and used as servants and sex slaves.  They escaped late last year when a meeting of Kony’s commanders had been disrupted during an air attack by Ugandan forces.  One of the girls told me the story of how her LRA captors found two infants by the side of the road and murdered them with an implement used to crush grain. 

The scale of Kony’s crimes has diminished.  Once he was the terror of Uganda.  Now he is left with a few hundred fighters, though they conducted more than 300 attacks last year.  The Kony2012 video has gotten some criticism for leaving an impression that mass atrocities are ongoing. 

Kony’s power to do harm is diminished, however, precisely because people took notice and took action.  The military forces of four African countries have cooperated to pursue Kony.  The International Criminal Court has indicted him for war crimes.  Both the Bush and Obama administrations have made the hunt for Kony a priority.  In Congo, I met with a few of the 100 military advisors President Obama has dispatched to the region to help coordinate operations against the LRA. 

The current, global focus on Kony is both justified and necessary.  He remains a danger.  His victims deserve justice. And he is increasingly cornered, probably somewhere in the Central African Republic.  A final push might make all of the difference.  Justice for Kony would not solve all the problems in that part of the world.  But it would make addressing many of that region’s problems easier. 

There has been another line of criticism of the Kony2012 campaign. Some have asked why Americans should care at all about the people in a remote corner of Africa.  Don’t we have enough problems of our own? 

We do.  But we must reject the idea that compassion is a virtue that must be hoarded or rationed.  People of conscience are concerned about the suffering of eastern Congo, or children dying of malaria in Senegal, or girls being trafficked in India, or foster children in the United States or orphans in Central America because they believe that human dignity is universal, and that all of us have some particular calling—some specific mission—to serve the cause of human dignity. 

Finding that mission always begins with awareness, with knowing the struggles of the world around us.  It is not enough to watch a video.  But we can start by watching a video and witnessing the needs that may become our calling. 

 —Michael J. Gerson is nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Washington Post and is the author of Heroic Conservatism (2007) and the co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (2010).  

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”